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Get Better at Thinking On Your Feet

Get Better at Thinking On Your Feet | THINKERS Notebook

On Wednesday night, my wife and I were watching the Democratic primary debate. She was impressed by a particular comment from one of the candidates and said, "It's so impressive how they can think on their feet like that. If I had enough time to prepare, do you think I could be that quick too?"

The answer seemed pretty obvious to me.

Of course you could, my love.

Which I say for two reasons:

One, because it's fun to brag about my wife -- who is really smart and, more importantly, will dive in head first to understand the most intricate details when she's motivated to learn something. 

Two, because any of us can get better at thinking on our feet through practice and preparation.

Now, could a week's worth of preparation have actually gotten my wife, or any of us, ready for the bright lights of a presidential debate stage? Surely not.

Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are two of the most polished and articulate debaters you'll find anywhere. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar have lifetimes of experience actually working on the policies they're being asked about. 

So those five had quite the head start on anyone who might have tried to swoop in and join the proceedings in the 11th hour. 

You're going to be well-prepared to think on your feet when you combine decades of relevant experience with tailored preparation for a specific moment, which all of these candidates surely did.

But while none of us are trying to prepare for a presidential debate stage, we all would like to be more confident in our ability to think on our feet. 

So this week's THINKERS Roundup includes three links that will help you get better at doing just that.

And here is key point to remember: it's about preparation, not innate skill.

It can be easy to look at someone who is quick in his or her feet and just assume it's something that comes naturally to them. And sure, it probably does come a little more naturally to some people than others. 

But being able to consistently think on one's feet is usually more a function of practice and preparation than just "being born with it."

So don't let that cop-out keep you from practicing and preparing to be better.

Links below, but first a quick update from inside the THINKERS Workshop.

This Week in the THINKERS Workshop

Here are a few recent conversations you should consider contributing to:

Also, we'd love your help with the next version of the notebook we're developing. Which of these headline ideas do you like best?

The THINKERS Workshop costs $99 per year to be a member. Remember that if you own a THINKERS Notebook, you get full access for free. (If you own a notebook but haven't activated your free access yet, reply to this email and let me know.)

Now on to this week's links ...

Yes, you can prepare for a spur of the moment

Whether it's an unexpected question for a decision that needs to be made quickly, it's easy to be caught off guard in the moment only to think of the perfect answer later. Thinking on your feet takes mental agility, and it's possible to prepare for those moments when you need to think fast.

Read: Five Ways to Get Better at Thinking On Your Feet (Fast Company)

The next uncomfortable is coming ... so be ready

You're minding your own business when you bump into someone important and he or she asks you a question. Suddenly, you're at a loss for words and find yourself stammering about awkwardly. Or maybe you're in what you thought was going to be a mundane meeting when out of the blue someone wants to know your perspective on the topic at hand, but your mind goes completely blank.

Don't kid yourself. This is not some quirk of personality or abnormal brain wiring to which you're simply a victim. Thinking on your feet and communicating eloquently during spur-of-the-moment interactions is a skill anyone can master.

Read: How to Think on Your Feet Under Pressure: 6 Tips (Inc)

Your values will help you make better decisions

Is there anything that brings more pressure than high-profile, high-stakes public speaking?

Let’s not count the many millions of people in the U.S. and worldwide who have fear of public speaking. Even for the rest of us, speaking in public is always an exercise in handling pressure. Add the prospects of an important audience, a resistant one, or tougher Q & A than you expected, and you may think the nearest barometer has suddenly gone haywire.

You might say that the way to handle such pressure is to prepare as much as possible concerning your content. And you’d be right. But there’s another layer you need in terms of preparedness, one that has to do with your ability to think on your feet.

Below are two exercises designed to help you survive and even thrive in the public speaking pressure cooker. Both are useful in giving you practice in thinking on your feet. Use one or the other (or both), based on the type of pressure you’ll be facing. 

Read: How to Think on Your Feet: Two Exercises for Speaking Under Pressure (Gary Genard)

Quote of the week

"When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.”

Abraham Lincoln


Jerod Morris
Chief Creative Thinker


Photo by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash

Why understanding your values is so important

Why understanding your values is so important | THINKERS Notebook
From 2011-2013, the Houston Astros were one of the least successful professional sports franchises in the world -- winning just 33% of their games.

Four seasons later ...

From 2017-2019, the Houston Astros were one of the most successful sports franchises in the world -- winning 64% of their games and making two World Series appearances, winning one.

So the Astros are a model for other sports franchises to follow, right? 


The Astros have become baseball's latest black eye, due in large part to a recently uncovered cheating scandal that revealed the Astros to have violated the fundamental competitive spirit that serves as baseball's foundation.

In case you missed it, the broad overview is that Astros set up a sophisticated technological system for stealing the signals of opposing pitchers and catchers so that Astro hitters would know what pitch is coming.

In the world of baseball, this is an absolute no-no: think insider trading on a baseball diamond.

It is undoubtedly underhanded and unethical, and arguments could be made that it is immoral as well.

And yet ...

It worked. 

The Astros won the World Series -- which Major League Baseball is not taking away. Players like Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, who have admitted their involvement, have become rich superstars. 

And the reason it worked is because setting up a sophisticated technological system to steal the opposing team's signals is ...

... wait for it ...

great idea!


The old cliche is that the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball. So if you are trying to generate ideas for how to solve the problem of hitting a baseball, few ideas have the potential to be as effective as a way to steal signals and relay them in real-time to hitters.

Judged simply based on how well it solves the problem at hand, it's actually a brilliant idea.

And it worked! It was a great idea that was well executed and achieved the desired effect. The Astros clearly benefitted from it, at least until they got caught. They won a World Series and won a ton of games.

So what's the problem?

The problem is one of values.

And it makes me wonder: was this idea put through a values filter prior to being implemented?

One of two things probably happened here:

1. The idea was not put through a values filter at all, so it was implemented despite its ethical red flags because no one considered whether it fit with the values of the organization.

Or ...

2. The idea was put through the values filter of an organization that valued winning over all else -- ethics and fair play be damned. Given how the Astros have acted since the scandal broke, my money is on #2.

    What's the larger point here? It's about how we prioritize ideas.

    When generating and judging ideas, you cannot overlook the importance of judging them against your values.

    And to do this properly, you have to know what your values are.

    Generating ideas is an important first step whenever you are trying to solve a problem or decide on a next course of action. And it's smart to welcome all ideas in this initial phase.

    But the next step is the one that really matters. The next step is when you start filtering your ideas. And the first filter any idea should go through is a values filter. 

    Does this idea fit with your personal values and the values of the team or organization you are a part of? If it doesn't, then it needs to be tossed.

    This way, you don't waste time developing an idea that won't even see the light of day, or, even worse, will see the light of day but ultimately lead to outcomes that go against your values. This can cause problems that take a long time to work back from.

    Just ask the Astros.

    Again, they may ultimately be fine with it. If winning was the #1 value, then the ends justify the means and the collateral damage is worth it. I certainly don't agree with those values, and I personally view the Astros with disdain, but I'm also not a stakeholder in their operations.

    But even if they value winning over all else right now, I wonder if that will still be the case a year, five years, or twenty years from now.

    An athlete's legacy lasts far longer than his or her playing career does. And a franchise's brand endures long after the parades have ended and the confetti is cleaned from the streets.

    So I wonder if the Astros might have approached this brilliant but fraught idea differently if they had taken a longer view of the potential negative impact on their individual legacies and brand. We can't ever know.

    But we can learn from their example, and make sure that we are as intentional as possible about understanding, communicating, and adhering to our values as possible.

    Because at the end of the day we are what we value. And no idea is worth pursuing if it compromises those values.

    This week in the THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three links to help you understand the importance of values in helping you filter ideas and make better decisions.

    First, a quick update from inside the THINKERS Workshop.

    This Week in the THINKERS Workshop

    This week, I hosted a short webinar that served as a bonus lesson in our mini course Generate Better Ideas with Brainwriting.

    The topic of the webinar was how to prioritize ideas. There are several different filters ideas should go through to separate the best and most actionable ones.

    Guess what the first filter is?

    That's right: values.

    So you enjoyed reading the essay above, you should carve out 20 minutes to watch or listen to this webinar. I talk about the Astros example, as well as a few others, to illustrate why understanding and filtering through values is so important.

    View the replay here: The ONE Thing You Must Do to Successfully Prioritize Your Ideas.

    The THINKERS Workshop costs $99 per year to be a member. Remember that if you own a THINKERS Notebook, you get full access for free. (If you own a notebook but haven't activated your free access yet, reply to this email and let me know.)

    Now on to this week's links ...

    Articulating your values isn't easy ... but it's worth it.

    The debasement of values is a shame, not only because the resulting cynicism poisons the cultural well but also because it wastes a great opportunity.

    Values can set a company apart from the competition by clarifying its identity and serving as a rallying point for employees. But coming up with strong values—and sticking to them—requires real guts.

    Indeed, an organization considering a values initiative must first come to terms with the fact that, when properly practiced, values inflict pain. They make some employees feel like outcasts. They limit an organization’s strategic and operational freedom and constrain the behavior of its people. They leave executives open to heavy criticism for even minor violations. And they demand constant vigilance.​

    Read: Make Your Values Mean Something (Harvard Business Review)

    How to uncover, understand, and live your values

    Values are a part of us. They highlight what we stand for. They can represent our unique, individual essence.

    Values guide our behavior, providing us with a personal code of conduct.

    When we honor our personal core values consistently, we experience fulfillment.

    When we don’t, we are incongruent and are more likely to escape into bad habits and regress into childish behavior to uplift ourselves.

    Read: 7 Steps to Discover Your Personal Core Values (Scott Jeffrey)

    Your values will help you make better decisions

    Every decision is made within some type of constraint. Maybe it's how much knowledge you have. Maybe it's how much money you have. Maybe it's how many resources you have. Why not what values you have?

    Making better choices is often a matter of choosing better constraints. By limiting your options to those that fit your values, you are taking an important step to ensuring that your behavior matches your beliefs. (Plus, constraints will boost your creativity.)

    Know your principles and you can choose your methods.

    Read: Let Your Values Drive Your Choices (James Clear)

    Quote of the week

    "It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

    Roy Disney


    Jerod Morris
    Chief Creative Thinker
    THINKERS Notebook

    Mitt Romney's Battle with Cognitive Bias

    Mitt Romney's Battle with Cognitive Bias | THINKERS Notebook
    Mitt Romney announced an important decision last Wednesday.

    You might have heard?

    Romney, the senator from Utah, voted in favor of one article of impeachment. In so doing, he became the first member of a president's own party to ever vote in favor of an article of impeachment. 

    Now let's be clear about something: this is not a political newsletter.

    And I am not going to debate impeachment nor share my personal feelings about whether Romney was right or wrong to cast the vote that he did.

    What I am interested in, and what I think any person who wants to improve their thinking will be interested in, is the thought process that Romney deliberately used to come to his decision.

    Because whether you agree with his decision or not, there is one element of Romney's process that could be applied by any person hoping to improve his or her decision making.

    Romney shared his process for making this particularly fraught decision on the Thursday morning edition of The Daily, the morning news podcast from The New York Times.

    During their discussion, Romney and Times correspondent Mark Leibovich arrive at the subject of Romney's reputation for trying to play both sides of an issue, and how he has made politically and personally expedient decisions only to seemingly reverse course at a later date. Romney doesn't dispute this characterization. Instead, he notes how he has learned from it, and how those lessons impacted his thought process this time around.

    He goes on to explain:

    "I have found, in business in particular, but also in politics, that when something is in your personal best interest, the ability of the mind to rationalize that that's the right thing is really quite extraordinary.

    "And I'm talking about myself. I've seen it in others, and I've seen it in myself. And you could swear on a Bible that you are doing exactly what is right, and that's because our mind has the capacity to do that.

    "In this case, I worked very hard to prevent my personal feelings and my personal desire from influencing a decision that was going to be an important decision and the most difficult decision I'd ever make."

    The implication here from Romney is that he was able to make this ostensibly difficult choice, which he believes is the right choice because he was able to consciously set aside his mind's own natural propensity to act in his immediate perceived best interest.

    In a grand sense, what Romney is alluding to are the cognitive biases that influence -- or certainly try to influence -- every single decision we make.

    What particular cognitive bias was Romney trying to avert? Well, there are a lot of them. And I'm not sure any singular cognitive bias fits bill. But a few jump out:

    • Outcome bias: The tendency to judge a decision by its eventual outcome instead of based on the quality of the decision at the time it was made.
    • Courtesy bias: The tendency to give an opinion that is more socially correct than one's true opinion, so as to avoid offending anyone.
    • Bandwagon effect: The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same.

    These cognitive biases and many others were surely pulling Romney in the direction of siding with the members of his own party. But as he stated, he consciously tried to filter out any biases driven by self-interest or self-preservation in an effort to arrive at simply the best possible decision.

    Was he successful in doing so? He seems to think so. At least right now.

    It is fair to wonder if any cognitive biases might have acted on Romney in the other direction. Maybe. Heck, probably.

    This leads to an even broader question: are we ever able to truly filter out all cognitive biases and reach a 100% pure, unbiased decision?

    No, most likely not.

    The combination of our natural disposition, our beliefs, and our experiences work together to help shape our decision making, and there are inherent biases mixed in there that may be inextricable from our decisions no matter how hard we try.

    But that doesn't mean trying isn't worth it. It is. We can, and should, strive for more purity in our decision making. We can, and should, strive to at least be cognizant of the biases influencing us in any given moment.

    The more we are aware of the cognitive biases that are jockeying for position to influence our decision, the better we will be able to making decisions we are at peace with now and will be able to defend in the future.

    According to his own words, this is what Mitt Romney was trying to do. And whether you agree with his ultimate decision on impeachment or not, the process he says he used to make it is laudable and one that we can all learn from. 

    This week in the THINKERS Workshop

    This week in the THINKERS Roundup, you'll find three links to help you understand and manage cognitive biases better.

    First, a quick update from inside the THINKERS Workshop.

    This week, we posted the final lesson in our new mini course on brainwriting called Generate Better Ideas with Brainwriting. All THINKERS Workshop members have free access to those lessons.

    In addition, we scheduled a live webinar for next week. It's free to all THINKERS Workshop members.

    Here are the webinar details:


    • Who: THINKERS Notebook founders Sean Jackson and Jerod Morris
    • What: The ONE Thing You Must Do to Successfully Prioritize Your Ideas
    • When: Thursday, February 13th at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time
    • Where: Live on Zoom, with a replay posted afterwards 
    • Why: So you can learn the single most important factor in prioritizing ideas successfully, why it's so important, and how to properly account for it during your prioritization process. 

    To access all the details, including the live Zoom link, and to RSVP, click here to visit the event page inside of the THINKERS Workshop.

    The THINKERS Workshop costs $99 per year to be a member. Remember that if you own a THINKERS Notebook, you get full access for free. (If you own a notebook but haven't activated your free access yet, reply to this email and let me know.)

    Now on to this week's links ...

    Proven techniques for combatting cognitive bias

    But asking those bigger, tougher questions does not come naturally. We’re cognitive misers—we don’t like to spend our mental energy entertaining uncertainties. It’s easier to seek closure, so we do.

    This hems in our thinking, leading us to focus on one possible future (in this case, an office that performs as projected), one objective (hiring someone who can manage it under those circumstances), and one option in isolation (the candidate in front of us).

    When this narrow thinking weaves a compelling story, System 1 kicks in: Intuition tells us, prematurely, that we’re ready to decide, and we venture forth with great, unfounded confidence. To “debias” our decisions, it’s essential to broaden our perspective on all three fronts.

    Read: Outsmart Your Own Biases (Harvard Business Review)

    How to overcome five common cognitive biases
    Psychologists Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky introduced the concept of psychological bias in the early 1970s. They published their findings in their 1982 book, "Judgment Under Uncertainty."

    They explained that psychological bias – also known as cognitive bias – is the tendency to make decisions or take action in an illogical way. For example, you might subconsciously make selective use of data, or you might feel pressured to make a decision by powerful colleagues.

    Psychological bias is the opposite of common sense and clear, measured judgment. It can lead to missed opportunities and poor decision making.

    Below, we outline five psychological biases that are common in business decision making. 

    Read: Avoiding Psychological Bias in Decision Making: How to Make Objective Decisions (Mind Tools)

    How to overcome common thinking mistakes and think clearly and objectively instead

    This post isn’t about the biases. This post is about thinking clearly. Regardless of what the biases and errors are called or where they manifest, there are ways to counter them. Over 100 biases have been described and observed. They are pervasive. However, one can use the following 8 strategies to think clearly and objectively in spite of these tendencies to jump to wrong conclusions.

    Read: 8 powerful ways to overcome thinking errors and cognitive biases (Cognition Today)

    Quote of the week

    “If there's something you really want to believe, that's what you should question the most.”

    Penn Jillette

    Jerod Morris
    Chief Creative Thinker
    THINKERS Notebook